New York, NY – August 14, 2013
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, on behalf of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), filed an amicus brief today that supports over 300,000 New Yorkers with vision and mobility impairments who seek to vote in-person at New York City poll sites.
The brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (United Spinal Association et al. v. Board of Elections et al., Case No. 12-4412), urges the Court of Appeals to uphold the U.S. District Court’s August and October 2012 orders finding the Board of Elections (BOE) liable for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and ordering the BOE to remedy accessibility barriers at its poll sites throughout the City.
The DOJ’s brief argues that: “The district court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of United Spinal based on undisputed evidence of the BOE’s failure to address barriers to access at New York City polling places. These barriers to access included steep ramps, missing handrails or guardrails on ramps, locked or heavy interior doors, blocked interior pathways, and missing signs identifying accessible entrances.”
The brief goes on to note that voters with disabilities who are excluded from their polling places may be “. . . deprived of an important civic experience.”
With the September Primary less than a month away and the 2013 New York City Mayoral Election approaching, it is critical that the Board of Elections enact an effective plan for the removal of barriers at poll sites throughout New York City to ensure that people with disabilities can vote in-person at their designated polling locations in these elections.
After more than a decade of advocating for an equal opportunity to vote at poll sites in New York City, the United Spinal Association and Disabled In Action brought a civil rights lawsuit against the New York Board of Elections in July 2010. Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit legal center specializing in high-impact class actions, the Law Office of Kevin Mintzer, and Cuti Hecker Wang LLP represent the plaintiffs in this federal class action suit.
Surveys taken during the General Election in November 2011 showed one or more physical access barriers at 84% of poll sites surveyed in New York City. Prior surveys taken during elections from 2008 through 2011 demonstrated that more than 70% of poll sites surveyed contained barriers.
Last year, the District Court cited widespread and pervasive barriers when it found the BOE liable for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and directed the BOE to complete a long-term remedial plan to fix accessibility barriers at poll sites throughout the City or relocate inaccessible sites to accessible locations.
The BOE appealed District Court’s orders. The Justice Department has opposed that appeal and expressed support for Plaintiffs’ position and the remedial plan ordered by the District Court. The plan requires the BOE to have an accessibility coordinator at each poll site and contract with an accessibility expert to assess possible solutions to barriers at poll sites throughout the City.
“We are pleased with the Justice Department’s support in the case and urge the Board of Elections to comply with the law,” said Stuart Seaborn, DRA Staff Attorney. “New Yorkers with disabilities deserve an equal voice in our political process and voting at poll sites is a fundamental American ritual that no one should be denied.”
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a non-profit legal center, which for twenty years has specialized in high-impact class action cases on behalf of people with all types of disabilities. DRA litigates nationally and has offices in New York City and Berkeley, California. DRA’s New York City voting access project is supported by The New York Community Trust. www.dralegal.org
Julia Pinover, 212-644-8644, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Seaborn, 510-665-8644, email@example.com